A teenage boy has confessed to fatally shooting an ethnic Armenian journalist outside his newspaper office in a brazen daytime attack, a prosecutor said Sunday.
Ogun Samast, who is either 16 or 17 years old, was caught in the Black Sea city of Samsun late Saturday, a day after the journalist Hrant Dink was gunned down in Istanbul. Police said the youth was captured following a tip from his father after his pictures were broadcast on Turkish television.
Istanbul prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said authorities were investigating whether Samast acted alone. Police detained six other suspects in the nearby city of Trabzon on Saturday, and three more on Sunday, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the swift work of police, saying “this is a lesson to those who want to shoot at freedoms … to those who don’t want calm to reign in Turkey.”
He promised a thorough investigation and appeared to blame the slaying on nationalist groups, which he said were intent on turning Turkey into an insular country.
“I cannot think of anything worse for Turkey. Those people … can never call themselves patriots. Our people will never forgive them,” Erdogan said.
Chief prosecutor Ahmet Cokcinar told The Associated Press that Samast had confessed to killing Dink during initial questioning in Samsun. He refused to give any further details.
The private news agency Dogan, and its sister company, CNN-Turk television, said the teenager told the prosecutor he shot Dink because the journalist had allegedly insulted Turks in opinions posted on the Internet. Neither news organization said how it got its information.
Dink’s death highlighted the precarious state of freedom of expression in a country that is seeking European Union membership.
Most Turks assume Dink, the 52-year-old editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, was targeted for his columns saying the killing of ethnic Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century was genocide. Nationalists consider such statements an insult to Turkey’s honor and a threat to its unity, and Dink had received numerous threats to his life.
Much of its once-influential Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of nations are calling the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died but vehemently denies it was genocide, saying the deaths occurred in civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk blamed Dink’s killing on defenders of a law that makes it a crime to insult Turkey, its government or national character.
“We are all responsible for his death in a way. But above all, I think it is those who still defend (the law) who are responsible for this death,” he said.
Pamuk had faced charges under the law after discussing the deaths of Armenians in Turkey with a Swiss newspaper. A court dropped the charges last January.
The six suspects who were detained Saturday included Yasin Hayal, who served 11 months in prison for the bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant in Trabzon in 2004, Turkish media reported.
Samast’s uncle, Faik Samast, told private NTV television that he did not think his nephew – a high-school dropout – was capable of shooting Dink on his own.
“He didn’t even know his way around Istanbul,” the uncle said. “This kid was used.”